One of my favourite movie scenes has always been the alfresco birthday dinner party that Juliette Binoche’s character throws Armande (Judi Dench) in the fairytale-like film, Chocolat. The casual backyard setting, in a quaint French village, features a rough-around-the-edges wire framed canopy, folding wood chairs and a long, linen-covered harvest table. Completely proletariat but utterly timeless and stylish in a way that the French pull off better than anyone. This kind of comfortable and chic setting inspires easy conversation, drinking copious amounts of red wine and gathering with friends well past sunset — and ends with empty bottles, burned-down candles, live music and dancing into the wee hours. My kind of dinner party!
With patio season and the May long weekend upon us, it’s time to think about outdoor décor basics — dining tables and chairs that encourage that same kind of relaxed abandon. I automatically veer away from matched sets, so here are my “perfect pairs” picks. (For more options and ideas, keep an eye out for the July issue, on newsstands June 7th.)
Continuing with the French theme, Pottery Barn’s outdoor Woven Cafe Chair is a score. If you know someone living in the U.S., I highly recommend ordering through the website to their address. Affordable outdoor versions of the classic bistro chair are surprisingly hard to come by, and this one withstands the elements while still hitting the right style note. I would pair it with the Andros Round Bistro Table and a large black umbrella (white and black stripes could be cute, too).
I’m a sucker for a long, rustic wooden table, and Restoration Hardware’s Provence Beam Rectangular Dining Table is beautiful. It’s a worthy investment piece (you could easily use it indoors, too) and almost any chair could work with it. Ikea’s new outdoor Läckö chair has the elegant silhouette of Thonet’s bentwood bistro version, and is only $40! Stock up and go soon — I bet you’ll be elbowing your way through a few H&H editors.
If your taste is more traditional, and you prefer a comfy seat to sink into, check out the Biscayne collection from Ethan Allen. This dining table has a tabletop made from honed light marble so it is very durable and will weather nicely. I actually prefer the silhouette of the Biscayne chair without a cushion, but it wouldn’t be very comfortable to sit in! I would still choose white, but Ethan Allen has a large selection of outdoor fabrics so you can customize your colours.
Greyed woven wicker is hot right now, especially when shaped like this Gloster Dining Chair. If you’re on a budget and prefer a mismatched look, just use two as end chairs mixed in with simple folding chairs. A Parsons-style wood table like this one is always a good investment, too.
A simple white folding table, like the Mälarö from Ikea, creates a modern, Karim Rashid-style vibe when paired with multicoloured Blankö chairs. (Just keep the rest of your décor sparse for this look.) Or, load up on patterned prints and terracotta pots with flowers and plants for a more flea-market chic style.
Whatever you choose, remember that while polished landscaping and the latest patio furniture may be impressive, it’s the company of friends that make patio season so great.
For more patio ideas, check out our Tropical-Inspired Outdoor Spaces photo gallery.
1. The Art of Chocolate, Rochambeau blog
2a. Woven Cafe Chair, Pottery Barn
2b. Andros Round Bistro Table, Pottery Barn
3a. Provence Beam Rectangular Dining Table, Restoration Hardware
3b. Läckö chair, Ikea
4a. Biscayne Dining Side Chair, Ethan Allen
4b. Biscayne Round Dining Table With Light Marble Top, Ethan Allen
5a. Dining Chair With Arms, Gloster
5b. Table, Gloster
6a. Blankö chairs, Ikea
6b. Mälarö table, Ikea